A few years ago at Philcon some asshole set off the fire alarm at 3 AM. The con was in a high rise hotel that year, so I trudged down 11 flights of stairs. About the time that everyone made it to the ground, the powers that be had determined it was indeed a false alarm, so we were all able to come back into the hotel lobby But it still took awhile before all the elevators were put back in service, and even longer to get a convention’s worth of hotel guests back up to their rooms.
The main thing I remember — outside of the scream of the alarm tearing me from my bed — is the sight of Laura Anne Gilman in her robe and slippers, clutching a manuscript to her chest. It was full of handwritten edits, and she was damned if she was going to let all that work burn up.
Of course, she probably had another electronic copy somewhere without the changes, so while losing it would have meant redoing a lot of work, it wouldn’t have been the total disaster experienced by some writers in the past, the ones who’ve left their manuscript in a taxi or lost it in a house fire. But it still would have been damned annoying and cost her a lot of effort.
As regular readers may have noticed, we experienced some kind of crash on Book View Cafe on Wednesday. Most blog posts from April 3 on disappeared. Things that were added to the main site disappeared. As of this writing, we’re still not sure what happened, but better tech people than I are striving to figure it out. We’ve managed to get the blog posts back up, but, alas, we don’t have the comments or the original links.
Here’s the difference between Book View Cafe’s crisis du jour and those I described earlier: We didn’t lose our work in the manuscript stage. We lost it AFTER it was published. Used to be you could figure your work was safe once it was in print. It might be savaged by reviewers. It might be banned in Boston. You might even get arrested for it. But unless someone went out and found every published copy and burned them all, your work was out there in print. It wasn’t going to disappear by accident.
Computer crashes accompanied by lost data are a basic fact of modern life. They don’t have to be caused by evil intent; an overload of traffic can take a website down. And even if you’re virtuous about backups, you’re likely to lose some things for good.
“The dog ate my homework” was always a feeble excuse, but “the computer ate my homework” could be true.
Then there’s the recent case of Amazon deleting copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from customers’ Kindles because it had erroneously sold unauthorized copies. (I still can’t get over the irony of this happening with 1984, of all books.) If a bookstore sold you an unauthorized print copy of 1984, they might ask you to bring it back — if they had your name and address — but they couldn’t make you bring it back.
Crises and glitches and errors aren’t new — Murphy’s law still applies — but the kinds of crises and glitches and errors have changed.
The level of stress they cause, however, remains the same.
One of the casualties of the April 7 crash was the first chapter of Nancy Jane’s novella, Changeling, but fortunately the main site is now back to normal, so you can now read Chapter 1 here. An e-book edition of the whole book will soon be available for a modest price.
Meanwhile, you can still find 51 flash fictions and a few other stories on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf.